Singapore can thrive even as protectionism grows: Chan Chun Sing

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Minister for Trade and Industry says Singapore has intangible strengths that will help businesses and workers in a less connected world

Countries are retreating from globalisation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Singapore's workers and businesses can tap opportunities even in a less connected world, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

This is because the Republic has its own intangible strengths which are not easily replicated elsewhere, including its connectivity as a trade hub and the trust that it has earned, he said.

While the pandemic has led to more protectionist barriers being erected between countries, Singapore must resist these pressures, said Mr Chan.

"A less connected world means a poorer world and fewer opportunities for all. A less connected Singapore means fewer and poorer quality jobs for us," he said in the fourth of six national broadcasts by ministers on Singapore's post-coronavirus future.

"Even in a more protectionist, less connected world, we can still make a living and more," he added.

Speaking at PSA Singapore's Pasir Panjang Terminal Building 3, Mr Chan said that Singapore will press on to build connectivity infrastructure to reinforce the country's position as a hub for business, finance, trade and data flows.

"We will work to stay connected with the world, even as the world threatens to fragment and regress towards protectionism. Despite our size, we can show the way, if we have good ideas," he said.

The immediate focus is on jobs, as the pandemic-induced downturn has led to falling incomes and job losses among workers, with layoffs expected to rise in the coming months.

A key initiative is the creation of 100,000 jobs and training opportunities in the coming year across various sectors including healthcare and early childhood education.

Mr Chan noted that even after Singapore reopens its economy, some companies will need to change their business models. Support will be given to help them, he said, such as in hiring and training graduates and mid-career workers.

But Singapore must look beyond the immediate challenges and invest in its intangible strengths.

Mr Chan noted that investors have chosen to site and expand their businesses here over the years because Singapore is open and connected to the world, is a trusted brand, is a united and stable society, and has a skilled workforce.

During the Covid-19 crisis, Singapore has built trust by choosing not to impose export restrictions or nationalise foreign investments.

Production lines were kept open for global supply chains, including critical materials for surgical masks.

"In uncertain times, our trusted brand counts for even more. Businesses have noticed," said Mr Chan. "When they make their next investments to diversify their global production bases, we will be in the running."

Partnerships with other countries in the form of trade agreements will also open up opportunities for businesses and "signal to the world our confidence and determination to press on with regional economic integration", he added.

Infrastructure projects, including Changi Airport Terminal 5 and the Tuas Mega Port, will also offer opportunities for the future.

Digitalisation and internationalisation will help transform a generation of businesses and people to thrive in the digital world.

More will be done to boost industry partnerships and intensify the overseas exposure of Singaporeans, said Mr Chan.